‘Union choices’ could destroy small business


ACTU leader Sally McManus.
ACTU leader Sally McManus.

The ACTU’s call to give casual employees the right to permanent employment status would destroy small business in Australia, one stakeholder says

Australian Council of Trade Unions Sally McManus has outlined a number of “rules which need to change” in order to improve wages.

These include restoration of penalty rates in the pharmacy, retail and hospitality sectors, as well as a living wage and changes to bargaining rules which Ms McManus says are “incredibly complex and stacked against workers”.

“Even when workers can bargain, the rules limit their power and protect employer’s interests above all else,” she said.

“The ‘nuclear option’ of employers simply terminating agreements has become commonplace and means that all bargaining is conducted under the threat of loss of all previously negotiated wages and conditions. This has to end.”

She said that the penalty rates cuts are “crushing working people and pushing down consumer spending”.

“The jobs which we were told would be generated by cutting penalty rates never appeared,” Ms McManus said.

“Penalty rates must be restored to pre-July 2017 levels, and the law should be changed to stop business imposing any further cuts to workers pay.”

She called for an end to the gender pay gap, stating that women earn 15.3% less than men over their working lives; this would include changes to awards to “address the historical under-valuation of work in female-dominated industries”.

Ms McManus has also criticised the practice of retaining staff as casuals.

The ACTU has called for casuals who have been working in a regular capacity for six months to be able to request to become permanent. Currently, this can be requested but employers have the right to refuse, Ms McManus said.

Small Business and Workplace Minister Craig Laundy told the ABC that the current system works.

Peter Strong, CEO of the Council of Small Business Australia (COSBOA) attacked the call, branding it “Union Choices” – a reference to the Howard Government’s “Work Choices” policy.

He said it would destroy employment in the Australian small business sector.

“The call by the ACTU for employees to be able to become permanent at their request after six months’ work is unworkable and would result in less employment not more,” he said.

“This proposal and other similar proposals would threaten the livelihood of small business people and over 4.5 million people they employ, most of whom are permanent employees.”

He said that there has been no increase in casual work, with the current rate of 22% of the workforce casualised having been fairly steady for more than 20 years.

“Disturbingly, the ACTU want all employees with children under 18 years of age to be able to name their own working days and hours,” Mr Strong said.

“This proposal goes against the need for people to be employed to deliver goods and services at times and hours that suit consumers. 

“What does the ACTU want a small business owner to tell its customers; sorry, we can’t help you right now but please come back at a time that is convenient to the ACTU? That business would cease to exist, as would the jobs.”

He said COSBOA does agree that Australia needs better definitions around what makes a contractor; it plans to participate in a round table on the subject with stakeholders.

“If the ACTU gets its way my message to small business people will be, ‘Do not employ anyone as it will put you at very high risk of losing your home and your health’.

“As [a COSBOA member] said, ‘this Union Choices must never see light of day’.”

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